At Syracuse University, there is a focused effort to embody democratic education through teaching, research, and engaged praxis. The rhetoric of publicly engaged scholarship is communicated through our vision, Scholarship in Action, and we purposefully enact the civic mission of higher education through hiringand admission practices, funded initiatives and within the scope of graduate education and research. Graduate education is an important site for the articulation and development of higher education’s role in participatory democracy because graduate students are the next generation of university professorate, administrators, and community partners.
Last October, The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article titled, Syracuse’ Slide where, among other things, Syracuse University’s commitment to publicly engaged scholarship was criticized as playing a role in lowering standards and reducing the national prestige of our university. This article mobilized graduate students from across campus, galvanizing us to speak back, across disciplinary boundaries, to the unfair depiction of our commitment to the university as a public good. The article deepened our level of solidarity as graduate students, stimulating an urgency about declaring the value of publicly engaged scholarship. Far from a slide, partnering with community stakeholders for the robust and dynamic production of knowledge is indicative of Syracuse’s Rise.
In my role as director for Imagining America: Artist and Scholars in Public Life’s Central New York, Publicly Active Graduate Education (PAGE), I e-mailed a copy of the article to PAGE members and suggested we write a collective letter to the editor. The response was overwhelming. Eighty-seven people identifying as “Syracuse’s Engaged Grads” answered the call offering to either help draft or sign the letter. The most remarkable feature of this response was the refusal of members of the Syracuse University graduate community to allow our University’s leadership in the new epistemology of reciprocal knowledge making to be mislabeled as anything but the most rigorous of scholarship. Using our own democratic practices as the foundation of our letter, we argued that:
• The building of knowledge is inseparable from practice;
• The inclusion of traditionally underrepresented students generates increased scholarly rigor by expanding perspectives;
• The dichotomous thinking that separates university and community knowledge is anachronistic;
• Community members are our partners and lived space is our laboratory and
• Engaged practice informs collective understandings and helps to create coalitions for civic action.
I am only one of the people who contributed to Syracuse’s Rise; it was a truly organic collaborative response to a gross mischaracterization facilitated by a far-reaching vehicle. I am proud to be a graduate student at an institution where our leadership, our professorate, and our student body are working to expand the paradigm of knowledge making to center the public good. When we consider our democracy in the United States today, there is no space for arguing if the University should engaged with the public; the time has passed for this question. Rather, it is for us, graduate students, to explore and develop new ways that our learning can cross disciplines and, quite literally, cross the street to respond to the problems and questions of the communities we rise up in. We believe that the strongest, richest, and most impactful knowledge making requires an honored place along the
continuum of scholarship for the acknowledgement of diverse scholarly forms and deep engagement.
A. Wendy Nastasi is a third year doctoral student in the Cultural Foundations of EducationDepartment in the School of Education at Syracuse University. Wendy is director of ImagingAmerica’s CNY PAGE program, and a member of IA’s Publicly Engaged Scholars study researchteam. As an instructor for SU’s Intergroup Dialogue Program, Wendy co-facilitates SOC/WGS 230:Intergroup Dialogue on Race and Ethnicity. Wendy’s research engages youth participatory actionresearch (YPAR) as a praxis for mobilizing urban high school students’ civic agency while centering youth’s voices and epistemic contributions. You can contact Wendy at either firstname.lastname@example.org or at cnypage.syr.edu.